EARTHQUAKES

Higher-magnitude earthquake is coming to Utah, warns expert

Apr 18, 2024, 10:00 AM | Updated: 11:17 am

Earthquake shows on Seismometer...

Seismometers located at the University of Utah Seismograph Stations are pictured in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 28, 2022.

SALT LAKE CITY–Experts are urging Utahns to prepare for a higher-magnitude earthquake than the one that rocked Magna in 2020.

That quake woke up Salt Lake Valley residents and knocked the trumpet out of Angel Moroni’s hand on top of the Salt Lake Temple. But State Geologist Bill Keach told KSL Newsradio Wednesday that could be a fraction of the size of future tremblors.

“So, we had a [magnitude] 5.7,” said Keach. “We probably had $65 million worth of damage, destroyed one school. A magnitude seven would be, oh, about 170 times stronger. So think about that.”

The odds of a big one cracking along the Wasatch Fault are also going up, according to Keach.

“The odds of a major earthquake, meaning like a greater than a [magnitude] six, are better than one in two in the next 50 years,” Keach said.

The potential impact

Keach said Utah’s current infrastructure leaves many people vulnerable. He said some 140,000 houses line the Wasatch Front that are built with “unreinforced masonry,” or URM’s. These are buildings with no steel rebar to strengthen the walls that support a structure, according to the website of Turnbull Masonry.

The problem also affects students–Keach estimated about 15% of schools are also unreinforced. Sixty years ago, he estimated that number was closer to 95%.

To find out if your house is unreinforced, Keach said there are some tell-tale signs such as walls that are made of brick or stone, or “if the windows are really recessed.” Keach added that home insurance companies often decide not to cover URM houses.

For more information on how to check your home’s readiness, Keach recommends you look at the state website, earthquake.utah.gov. 

How to prepare

Keach said you’ll need a 72- or 96-hour kit ready in case a bigger quake hits.

“Your power, your water, grocery stores, in a big earthquake they’re all going to be down,” said Keach. “For how long, depends on how big [an earthquake].”

When the ground begins to shake, the state suggests you follow the motto: “Drop, cover and hang on.”

“Don’t try to run outside,” said Keach. “Just get in a spot where you can be safe and hang on, as quickly as you can.”

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